The plane skidded to a halt on the dry tarmac in Kigali, and we stepped out into the open air, like movie stars do, to walk across the black pavement to the airport terminal.
The first thing that I noticed about Kigali was the smell of the different air. At first, it was almost too much to take in. It was exotic and hot, like it had just come out of an oven. My cold Canadian winter lungs felt angry at this, and only took in short sips, before it relaxed and let the cold permafrost melt away. It smells of the stir and scurry of heartbreak, of the fragility of human nature, and of the epic failures that produce resilience. The sweet, cleansing wind, like the scent after a heavy rain, reminds me of hope and renewal. It smells comforting, like the smell of returning home after a long time away.
The next thing I noticed was the people; smooth, sweat-glistened skin and dark, brown and black piercing eyes, which immediately glow alight upon receiving a greeting. Tall, fit and proud, Rwandans walk with a relaxed sense of being, greeting those in the area with handshakes, hug and genuine appreciation.
Instantly, in those first few moments of getting off the plane, I threw out all the misconceived, previous notions I had of Africa from pictures, movies and media coverage. Usually, it's a report on the sadness that exists, leaving the positive aspects for imaginations to create. My first impressions were positive, exciting and re-invigorating.
For the first time in my life, I am in Eastern Africa, a place that previously would be mentally crossed off a running travel-list I create whenever gazing longingly at maps. “I’m not ready to see Africa,” I would always tell myself. In all honesty, it scared me, for a multitude of reasons. I unfortunately stereotyped an entire continent, and from those first moments on the ground in Kigali, I dispelled those myths, like one swats away a buzzing mosquito.
It's unlike any other place I have ever been.